I love SolarCity.
Nowhere else have I found such a density of positive energy. Those who joined us wholeheartedly agreed that we need not dig up and burn the Earth to power our progress. The pace was quick. Even after my full-bore headlong startup life at Togetherville I found SolarCity collectively kept the pedal even closer to the metal.
Initially I was engaged as a UX consultant by John Linney, then SolarCity's VP of Marketing and a noble mentor/colleague from my Togetherville days. John gave me gracious space to get up to speed on the clean energy sector, and pressed me and all of us to find a way to connect with the next segment of potential customers. SolarCity needed to go mainstream to save the planet.
I boned up on the energy industry and the current ferment of climate change. I read exhaustively about the state of our planet and how we power our civilization. Before long I had convinced myself that the greatest challenge humanity will face in my lifetime will be an energy crisis. This crisis might be triggered by climate change, by an impending dearth of oil, or by the tyranny of those who hold our excavated energy sources as private property. The mission became clear.
In my first year at SolarCity I searched the company for emergent problems and great opportunities for growth. All the while SolarCity grew explosively, more than doubling in personnel and revenue each year, and was experiencing some of the growing pains you might expect: too many sticks, not enough glue.
Leadgen at a glance
- Empowered field agents to focus on their strengths
- Solved a core organizational inefficiency
- Fully responsive and adaptive
- Built and deployed in weeks
In 2013 our field sales reps were still taking down their fresh leads on paper, leading to lots of mistaken, incomplete, and misleading information. The field agents would later sow their mealy leads into our CMS to be eagerly plucked by our inside sales acolytes. These brave souls struggled to make follow-up calls to ostensibly interested homeowners whose real names they didn't know, or whose phone numbers and email addresses didn't seem to be right.
To ease this organizational pain, I set about designing, developing, building, and deploying a web application we called Leadgen.
After interviewing several sales agents and analyzing the lead generation process from end-to-end, I whipped up a slick new user experience with invaluable input and feedback from my boss and a handful of esteemed colleagues, designers, developers, and engineers.
The Leadgen User Experience
By design users of Leadgen (our field agents, and by proxy their prospects) would have an experience something like this:
A SolarCity field agent intercepts a prospective customer (prospect) in a Home Depot, near a mall kiosk, or at their front doorstep, holding a smart tablet.
The agent asks the prospect if they have considered going solar. If the prospect has considered it but not taken action, they often have some objections or reasons why not. The agent dispels those swiftly and politely.
The prospect then either escapes or volunteers their home address, ZIP code first, which 5 little digits the agent taps into the tablet.
The street address centers and zooms the map to the prospect's rooftop. Or if the address isn't accurate, Leadgen figures that out and corrects it.
Now the agent can make a preliminary determination as to whether the prospect has a good roof for a solar system. They can talk about roof materials, azimuth (which direction the main slopes of the roof are facing), shade, and obstructions.
It's important to the solar installer that a prospect uses enough electricity to warrant installing a power plant on their roof. Hence the next question: "What's your average monthly electricity bill?"
If the prospect's electricity bill is high enough, and the prospect is excited about going solar, the agent collects some contact information and asks them when it would be convenient for a SolarCity rep to follow up with them.
This seemingly simple form has a lot under the hood. It'll pick up invalid phone numbers, geographically impossible addresses, impossible names, and even suggest the right email address if someone makes a typo. Once everything checks out, the agent submits the lead to Salesforce, and voila! A hot lead is born.
Interested in the Leadgen tech stack?
MongoDBas the data store
Expressas the app framework and router
stylusfor CSS preprocessing
jQueryfor the interaction design and UI events
- the Google Maps API for, well, maps
- the Salesforce API to record the leads entered.
Since 2013, Leadgen has helped our field agents bring in thousands of quality leads more efficiently and reliably. And it only took a few hundred design and development hours, just a few weeks work for a single devsigner. I wish you could see the Github logs, but they're of course proprietary and hidden away at this point. That said, none of this would have been possible without John's vision and the invaluable input and incisive feedback from him and several key others at SolarCity—you know who you are 😉.
I loved building Leadgen, and learned a boatload about Node, jQuery, Google Maps, responsive design, CSS media queries, and HTML5 forms. All of these learnings eventually fed into the experience of which I'm most proud SolarCity Go!
SolarCity Go! in a nutshell
- A first-of-its-kind DIY home energy product
- Condensed a multi-week process into a ten-minute web experience
- Fostered a comprehensive suite of APIs connecting customers with real-time, real data
- Pioneered the adoption of
gitversioning, Slack team communication, a cutting-edge release strategy, and continuous deployment within the company
Next we sought to seize a much bigger opportunity. Our market research indicated that many of our potential customers were the couch-quarterback DIY-type. They didn't like waiting around for their solar system design, or for the next phone call in the process. They would rather decide to go solar and then do whatever they could to make it happen. The frustrations of these prospects often stemmed from hold-ups in the sales and design process, and those hold-ups often arose out of missed communications or unclear correspondence. We identified a veritable quandary of bottlenecks in our customer onboarding process and set out to ***86*** them as adeptly as possible.
After three or four rapid prototypes, we had bolstered the confidence and grasped the attention of the C-level, and a new product was born, which we called SolarCity Go!
The concept was bold: enable interested homeowners to:
- craft their own preliminary solar system design,
- determine how much money they could save on electricity by switching to solar, and
- qualify themselves as promising customers with good credit,
all in ten minutes while comfortably lounging on their couch with an iPad. We gathered many of the best and brightest at SolarCity and put our noses to the grindstone.
We're extremely proud of what we were able to accomplish (in under a year, no less!):
- We pioneered APIs that provided potential customers with real-time quotes based on their real data and ours.
- We empowered energy-conscious homeowners to design their own solar system in a few mouse clicks or smartphone taps.
- We made this experience available on any modern browser or mobile device.
- We took a qualification/design/signup process that once took several people multiple weeks to complete, and condensed it into an interactive DIY web experience that a prospective customer could finish in minutes.
- And we trailblazed a new design, development, communication, and deployment process that soon spread to many of the software teams around the company.
Tech stack breakdown!
- Custom automated build system using:
- Versioned with
- Hosted on
- Accessed endpoints from Google Maps, Force.com, Twilio, and our own newly minted internal API suite.